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close this bookCERES No. 074 (FAO Ceres, 1980, 50 p.)
close this folderCerescope
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The protein gap persists as mark of income disparity

- double for the rich

It is very difficult, if not impossible, to define the optimum level of protein or calorie consumption. The reason is that this level varies from one individual to another according to such criteria as age, sex, climatic conditions, height, weight, type of work... and many other factors. What can be measured, however, are the gaps in these levels of consumption between countries, regions or continents. Also the variations in these gaps between two given periods. Both are significant.

The table gives some idea. One cannot fail to be struck, first of all, by the fact that in 1966-68 the difference between the highest average total protein consumption (North America) and the lowest (Far East) was more than from single to double. In 1975-77, it was still more than from single to double, even if the record by then was held by Oceania. If all the industrialized countries together are compared to all the developing countries together, the gap is also maintained, and even very slightly accentuated, since it has risen from 39.7 to 40.7.

The inequalities are even more striking when one looks at the detailed distribution of these proteins. It jumps to the eye that increased income means increased animal protein, to the detriment of vegetable protein-at least when financial resources are sufficient not only to meet basic needs but also to allow for selection and diversification of diet. This rule is in evidence everywhere in the rich countries, although in North America, surprisingly, there is still a 2 percent advance in both categories of protein. But for the industrialized countries as a whole, vegetable proteins are dropping 4 percent on average.

It is quite a different story in the developing countries. They usually have less than enough to eat, and when income increases they must be content with improving their diet quantitatively by an additional portion of vegetable protein (mainly cereals). Animal protein is the food of the rich. This is why the difference between the lowest level (Far East) and the highest North America and/or Oceania) is not merely from single to double, but from single to tenfold! Here again, the gap is maintained from one period to another.

In this table, Latin America presents a rather special situation. It is the region which, in 1966-68 as in 1975-77, consumed more animal protein than any other part of the Third World, reflecting a slightly higher average level of income. It is also the only region in the Third World where vegetable protein consumption has dropped (- 6 percent). However, the amount of calories of vegetable origin has not dropped In the same way but rather has risen from 2 094 to 2 107 in the last ten years. Since the amount of fats of vegetable origin has not increased (it has dropped from 26.4 to 26.0 9 per person), one is tempted to believe that the explanation of this phenomenon lies in sugar consumption (+ 17 percent).

But the widest gap of all relates to calories, and is not shown in this table:

between the Far East and North America, availabilities of calories of animal origin were, in 1966-68, in the ratio of 1 to 12. Ten years later the ratio, between the Far East and Oceania, was also 1 to 12.